Friday, March 27, 2015

Chaos Sunday

I call it Chaos Sunday. Its real name is Palm/Passion Sunday.

The chaos comes from the fact that dozens of children whom we have not seen in a while descend on Faith church for the express purpose of being sugared up with donuts, then lined up, given palm leaves, instructed not to hit each other with them, then paraded down the aisle of the sanctuary and made to sing a few hosanna-related songs in front of the congregation. This is at the start of the service. It has the appearance of off-off-off-Broadway, meaning it could use a little more rehearsal (any at all, really). Our choir director has to physically pick some of the kids up and put them in their spots because they have no clue where they are going or what they are doing (or singing).

It's over soon after, to be repeated again at the later service. Meanwhile, I will have been experiencing the event as a kind of liturgical "Groundhog Day" because once the palm parade dissolves into the passion narrative and ends with the crucifixion, I go across the hall and start the process over--three times!

It is perhaps the most challenging Sunday of the year. More than Easter, I think.

For obvious reasons, our choir director would like to get the children on and off as soon as we can, so she always asks that I keep my opening voluntary as short as possible so the kids don't have long to wait.  This year I completely did not do this.

But in order to honor her need to start the parade on time and also to make sure that the first service does not run past the time I need to be at the second service, I am starting it ten minutes before the service, ala the old days, when people talked over the organ music and half the congregation missed it completely, so that it will end in time for the announcements and the children. In case you are someone who didn't know the music was starting early this week (for some reason it didn't get into the church email) I'm sharing it with you here, along with anyone else who wants to listen in. It is the first movement (the majority) of the Third organ sonata by Felix Mendelssohn, which, for reasons I explain below, seemed entirely appropriate for the nature of our service; it functions almost like an overture for what is to come during worship on this unique Sunday of the church year. Here are my notes from the bulletin:

"Mendelssohn's sonata begins with a processional, as we would expect on this Palm Sunday. But a minute later the mood shifts. Now in a minor key the voices enter one by one building tension and drama. It is, for our purposes, foreshadowing: imagine Jesus on his donkey setting his face toward Jerusalem, in the midst of his triumph, knowing the tragedy that was to come. As the voices whirl above, Mendelssohn quotes a psalm tune in the pedals: "Out of the Depths I cry to You, O Lord." This section is the longest of the sonata; it culminates with a dramatic pedal solo which rises to the top of the pedal board, only to sink to its depths. But as it arrives at the bottom, the processional returns, grander than before. The premonition is gone; we are returned to the start of the service. There are tiny reminders of the psalm tune interleaved with the majestic phrases, but a final shout of acclamation carries the day. At least for now."

Here is the music. Happy Chaos Sunday!

Mendelssohn: Sonata in A Major: I. con moto maestoso

A while back, someone noticed that Protestants don't go to church during Holy Week, thus hearing the Palm parade into Jerusalem part of Jesus' story and the Resurrection from the Grave part of the story the next week, and entirely skipping the part in between where he gets arrested, tried, and crucified. Since it lacks integrity to go "from triumph to triumph" and only get the "happy" parts, the church has attempted to cover both the readings traditionally given to Palm Sunday, and the "passion" narrative that follows, the portions that ought to be read during the week that follows, on Thursday and Friday. Since our church also has a service on Thursday, we go over the passion story twice (or in my case, four times). but since only around 100 of our 400 active members usually attend, the remaining three-quarters get their dose on Sunday, whether they like it or not!

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